With horror and unsettling humour, these concise short stories explore a world of human failure – and take the breath away
These 40 very short stories by the American author Kathryn Scanlan inhabit a world of human failure. Families dissolve through vagrant desire and inner disconnection. Lives are shaped by ordinary neglect: of spouses, of children and of selves. Relations between people and other animals are contingent, chancy and cruel; bodies and selves fail to cohere, and pleasure cannot sustain either itself or any meaning. Deaths are mere passings, with little weight or consequence. And yet The Dominant Animal is a deeply enjoyable book.
A wide variety of short literary forms echo through these stories: poetry, aphorism, fairytale, fable – there’s a story called “Fable” – and jokes, in shape if not content. In “Salad Days” a character dies when struck on the head by a golf ball. It is a story of losers that might be a comedy, but there are no comedic cues, leaving it open to the reader to take it as they will. The build-up to the final scene is joke-ish, and the effect is more punch than punchline; one that takes the breath away.